Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Big things happening at the Kern County Museum

Rotary Club of Tehachapi


To thank Mike McCoy for his presentation, President Paul Kaminski presented him with a certificate and $100 was donated to the Rotary Foundation in his honor.

On May 30, the Rotary Club of Tehachapi welcomed Dr. Mike McCoy, the executive director of the Kern County Museum, who gave an engaging and informative presentation about the museum and their plans for the future.

The Kern County Museum has been in existence for 80 years, which makes it one of the oldest and largest museums in the state. Mike has been the director for seven years, and it is impressive to see the way the museum has grown and changed under his leadership.

Although born in Texas, Mike was raised in Oildale, attending local schools before earning his bachelor's degree from UC Santa Barbara. He later obtained a master's degree in Public Administration from Chico State, and a PhD from UC Santa Barbara in Public Policy. A career educator, Mike worked all over the world, including Asia, the Middle East, South America, the Pacific Islands, in addition to many years in California. During his lifetime, he always had a love of history and a passion for museums. He is a self-proclaimed "museum nerd," having visited over 400 museums around the globe.

Upon retirement from education as a school district superintendent in Kern County, he connected with his passion and became the executive director of the Kern County Museum. His parents were volunteers at the museum in the '50s and '60s, and he saw so much potential at the museum when he started. He drew on his experience in school district administration to evaluate the budget, infrastructure, facilities, staffing and efficiency to create a vision for the future.

When he first evaluated the budget, he saw that the museum earned approximately $12,000 annually from school field trips, but generated $50,000 in revenue from weddings.

"I immediately knew that my main job was as a wedding planner!" he said.

He said that special events are foundational to the museum's income, so he has focused on creating and improving venue spaces at the museum.

"As a school district superintendent, I knew construction, and I know how to build stuff," he said.

The museum has become a sought-after event space for many special events, and the museum now generates approximately $350,000 annually from weddings alone. However, they still look forward to all the school field trips, and they welcomed 14,000 4th graders from Kern County during the school year alone!

However, McCoy always keeps sight of the fact that they are a history museum, so the museum now has world class researchers to support the museum's growth. They have a research center, and many retired teachers from the area volunteer their time to support ongoing research efforts.

During his tenure, he has completed approximately 60 different improvement projects. One of the significant displays is the Transportation Center, previously just a storage place for many off-display wagons and cars. The museum raised a million dollars, and now displays those historic wagons and cars in a beautiful air-conditioned venue, which can also be rented out as an event venue. Likewise, there was an old trolley car in a large unused facility, so they cleaned it out and rebuilt the trolley car. When they obtained the bar from the infamous Noriega Hotel, it helped create another beautiful historic display suitable for a venue space. They have added to the neon courtyard, only taking signs from noted businesses where the building is scheduled for demolition, and they now have 40 signs in their neon courtyard. In addition, all the buildings have been repainted and windows repaired, and a new well ensures the lawns are beautifully green and well-maintained.

Another source of pride for the museum is the "Bakersfield Sound" exhibit, which holds the largest collection of country music west of Nashville. The museum collection features stage costumes, sheet music, instruments, and other memorabilia from some of the most influential country western artists to come out of Kern County. A visit to this exhibit, and one can see the outfit Merle Haggard wore when he accepted one of his Grammy awards.

Mike stressed that they focus on honoring the contributions of all the cultural groups in Kern County, and there are now a number of dedicated houses and educations centers to honor the Native American, Basque, Chinese, Latino, African American, Italian, and other groups who have contributed to the rich history of Kern County. In addition, their book club and lecture series have been growing in popularity. Information on the museum and their events can be found at https://kerncountymuseum.org/

The Tehachapi Rotary Club meets at noon every Thursday at Kelcy's Restaurant. Rotary is committed to "Service Above Self," and devotes time and resources to projects in the local community, scholarships for college-bound high school seniors, and supporting global efforts for polio eradication. For more information about the Rotary Club, you can visit their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Rotary/ClubofTehachapi/.